ROG Phone 3 Review – When you just cant have enough
In less than a year, the ROG Phone is back with its third generation. Continuing the legacy, it will be spotting the SD865+ with LPDDR5 RAM and UFS3.1 while spotting a 144Hz AMOLED display. The upgrades are ample to make a next generation, but will it be a success? Let's find out.
1 Year Warranty
* Refer to our conclusion section for local pricing estimates
+ Upgraded AMOLED display with 144Hz refresh rate
+ 3 Levels of X-Mode boosting insane performances
+ 6,000mAH battery lasts longer than you will ever need
+ Hypercharge with QC4.0/PD3.0
+ Dual charging ports still retained
+ AeroActive Cooler 3 works even with Lighting Armor Case and now has kickstand
+ Unmatched camera in comparison to other gaming smartphones
+ Now with 5G and Wi-Fi 6
+ Improved AirTriggers 3
+ Chart topping performances
- 3.5mm audio jack missing from the device
- Fragile build requires extremely careful handling
- At high refresh rates, the colors turn slightly dull
There is no doubt that the ROG Phone is one of the best gaming phones that have surfaced the planet. Whether we refer to its aesthetics, its performance, its efficiency, or its wide variety of accessories, the ROG Phone doesn’t fail to impress. The only problem, is that ASUS has set the benchmark extremely high even for themselves, that the margin for errors is reducing by the generation and improvisation will require out of the world thinking. Will the ROG Phone 3 able to live up to its legacy? Let’s find out.
For clarification purposes, there are three official SKUs of the ROG Phone 3 in Malaysia:
- ROG Phone 3 Strix (Snapdragon 865 / 8GB RAM / 256GB Storage / 5G)
- ROG Phone 3 (Snapdragon 865+ / 12GB RAM / 512GB Storage / 5G)
- ROG Phone 3 (Snapdragon 865+ / 16GB Ram / 512GB Storage / 5G)
There will be no 1TB storage option for the ROG Phone 3 according to ASUS because apparently the problem lies in obtaining UFS3.1 storage chips which is not a deal breaker in my humble opinion.
Unboxing the ROG Phone 3
While ASUS maintained the signature prism box design, there has been some significant differences in comparison to the previous generation. The outlook itself looks more funky with rainbow reflector strips running around the box. To unbox it, you will need to pull out the inner trapezium box with the ROG Phone 3 text facing upwards. This is extremely important because the device itself is actually stored on the outer shell and with the box facing upwards, the AeroActive Cooler 3 will be facing down so you might want to be extra careful during this process.
I wont be surprised if someone might drop the device on its first day. UPDATE: I was right!
I don't even notice when I drop phones anymore pic.twitter.com/y8tckLIsHi
— Linus Tech Tips (@LinusTech) July 22, 2020
Out of the box, you will get the ROG Phone 3 itself, an AeroActive Cooler 3, Quick Charge 4.0 30W Hypercharge charger, a Type-C to Type-C cable, a 3.5mm to Type-C cable, Aero Case, two single rubber inserts and two twin rubber inserts for the side port, ROG sticker and ROG SIM ejector. Earphones are not bundled with the ROG Phone 3.
The ROG Phone 3 shares almost the same dimensions as that of the ROG Phone 2, standing at 171mm tall and 78mm wide. The only difference is its thickness where the ROG Phone 3 is thicker by about 0.3mm, thanks to the bulging camera section. If you minus the camera bulge, the body thickness would be pretty much similar.
The display section of the ROG Phone 3 looks exactly similar to its predecessor too. ASUS reduced the copper color finishing around the front facing speaker grills in the ROG Phone 2 in comparison to the first generation ROG Phone. This time, ASUS removed copper scheme entirely, leaving only black shade on this face. I still prefer the copper color touch and it will be badly missed here. I’m getting sick of all black front façade of majority of the smartphones in the market. This was ROG Phone’s identity and it’s missing, but hey, let’s be glad the dual front-facing speakers are still here.
The display itself is 6.59” having a 19.5:9 ratio with a 2340 x 1080 resolution (391ppi) and HDR10+ certified AMOLED. The refresh rate has been bumped up to 144Hz while still retaining 1ms response rate with a 270Hz touch sampling rate and a mere 25ms touch latency. The brightness goes up to 650nits on High Brightness Mode (HBM) for better visibility under the sun and at its peak, can be bumped up to 1000 nits. The color gamut is at 113% DCI-P3 with ΔE < 1 accuracy. It is capable of flaunting 1.07 billion colors and a range of 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio which is double of that in the ROG Phone 2. The protection remains the same by Corning Gorilla 66 and for the comfort of your eyes and to protect it, there is hardware based TÜV Low Blue Light. It’s insane to think that the ROG Phone 3 display has a clear upgrade in just one year gap and it doesn’t only improve its vividness, it also responds quicker.
Top of this side right next to the front facing speaker is the front facing 24MP f/2.0 Quad Bayer camera with 0.9µm sensor underneath. Much like the ROG Phone 2, the fingerprint is at the same location, in front, under the display. There’s not so much else going on around in the front here, so lets move on to the sides.
The top side of the ROG Phone 3 houses one of the array microphone and you will notice two antenna lines running across.
The bottom section sees the USB 2.0 Type-C connector compatible with Quick Charge 3.0 and Power Delivery 3.0, along with similar antenna lines together with another microphone. Existing ROG Phone 2 owners will be disappointed to find out that this time around, the 3.5mm jack is missing from here. Indeed, it was a disappointment to me too. The ROG Phone 3 is a gaming phone, aiming at everything that does the job quickest and nothing beats 3.5mm jack latency when it comes to audio.
The right side of the ROG Phone 3 gets busier. Both ends call the AirTrigger 3 buttons home that are signified by the “ROG” cybertext instead of the older Mayan identification. Underneath these lies the ultrasonic buttons that functions as shoulder buttons imitating controllers. In between both of these are the power button now with a ring of red around it and a volume rocker. Next to the power button is another microphone.
The left side of the ROG Phone 3 shows the common sight of the side-mounted charging and connectivity port. The 48-pin custom connector separates the USB 3.1 gen2 that is capable of Quick Charge 4.0 and Power Delivery 3.0 which is next to a custom port that is used by the accessories. Perhaps this is the only part of the ROG Phone 3 that is still adopting the copper color scheme as everywhere else has been replaced with black and red mix. The ROG Phone 3 comes with rubber seal with extra two units to entirely seal the port. This time around, there is also an option to only seal the accessories port by using a single rubber seal, which ASUS provided two of them. I really needed this badly because I was getting tired of taking it off every time I wanted to use the side port, so thank you ASUS!
Moving to the back of the ROG Phone 3, things get more different from the ROG Phone 2. The glass finishing is here to stay and still looks perfectly pleasant to the eye.The center of this phase projects the logo with a white background as opposed to silver in the past, making it more prominent and actually brighter when the RGB LED is lit behind it.
Top area holds a triple camera setup that sits inside a bulging home that actually looks uglier than the past model. Two LEDs are still present next to the camera and they still work the same way as before; main one used for dual flash while the other smaller one for RGB effects in case you use supported accessories. While the camera housing spoils the outlook of the ROG Phone 3 back, what is beneath it compensates. There are three cameras altogether.
The main camera uses Sony IMX686, a 64MP image sensor with 0.8µm pixel size. It uses Quad Bayer technology that stitches 4 images from the 16MP, 1.6µm effective pixel size sensor. The f/1.8 aperture is wide enough to let plenty of light in too. The second camera is a 13MP 125° FOV ultrawide camera much like in the previous generation. The third camera is a 5MP Macro f/2.0 and in all honesty, this was not really necessary in the first place. It’s a gaming phone and can keep the focus at it. The first two camera are more than sufficient to take pretty beautiful shots.
The air vent has been reduced in size, but it’s now closer to the AeroActive Cooler 3 when its mounted, that it actually serves better purpose now. It’s placed lose to a transparent peeled off design that on first sight, looks pretty bland. As you look at it closely, you will learn to appreciate the details underneath it that has a black and red scheme. I won’t sugarcoat things here, I still prefer the ROG Phone 2 design personally.
The AeroActive Cooler 3 has been improved too. It looks different and is not backwards compatible. This time, ASUS has also added a kickstand to it so you can stand the ROG Phone 3 in landscape mode. It also has a USB Type-C port and a 3.5mm audio jack (thank goodness!). When mounted, the gap between the ROG Phone 3 and the cooler is a largely increased and now it even works with the ROG Lighting Armor Case that you can purchase separately.
|Processor||3.1 GHz Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 865 Plus 5G Mobile Platform with 7nm, 64-bit Octacore Processor|
|GPU||Qualcomm Adreno 650|
|UI||Android 10 with ROG UI|
|Display||6.59” 19.5:9 2340×1080 (391ppi) 144Hz/1ms AMOLED HDR10+ certified; 270Hz touch sampling rate, 25ms touch latency
650nits HBM brightness & 1000 nits peak brightness, 113% DCI-P3 Delta E average <1%
1.07 billion colors
1,000,000:1 contrast ratio
Front 2.5D Corning® Gorilla® 6 Glass
TÜV Low Blue Light (Hardware Solution) and Flicker Reduced certifications for eye comfort
Capacitive touch panel with 10 points multi-touch (supports Glove touch)
|Memory||LPDDR5 16GB RAM|
|Sensor||Accelerator, E-Compass, Proximity, Hall sensor*2, Ambient light sensor, in-display fingerprint sensor, Gyro, Ultrasonic sensors for AirTrigger 3 and grip press|
|Main Rear Camera||64MP SONY IMX686 sensor, 0.8 µm pixel size – Quad Bayer technology with 16MP
1.6 µm large effective pixel size
F1.8, 1/1.7” sensor
2×1 OCL PDAF
|Second Rear Camera||13MP, 125˚ ultra-wide, F2.4, Real-time distortion correction, 11mm equivalent focal length in 35mm film camera|
|Third Rear Camera||5MP Macro, F2.0|
|Front Camera||24MP, 0.9µm, Quad Bayer Technology, F2.0, 27mm equivalent focal length in 35mm film camera|
|Video Recording||8K (7680 by 4320) @ 30 fps (main rear camera)
4K (3840 by 2160) @ 30/60 fps (main rear camera), @ 30 fps (second rear camera) 1080p @ 30/60 fps; 720p @ 30 fps 3-axis electronic image stabilization for rear cameras Time Lapse (4K) Slow Motion video (4K @ 120 fps; 1080p @ 240/120 fps; 720p @ 480 fps) Take still photo while recording video
|Speaker||Dual front-facing speakers with GameFX & Dirac HD Sound 7-magnet stereo speaker with dual NXP TFA9874 smart amplifier for louder, deeper and less distorted sound effect|
|Audio Output||Hi-Res audio 192kHz/24-bit standard (USB-C™ output) that is 4 times better than CD quality GameFX audio system for improved in-game audio experience New AudioWizard with multiple listening profiles tuned by Dirac|
|Microphone||Quad microphones with ASUS Noise Reduction Technology|
|Wireless Technology||WLAN 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax 2.4 & 5GHz and Wi-Fi 6 2×2 MIMO, Bluetooth 5.1 Wi-Fi Direct support|
|Navigation||GNSS support GPS(L1/L5), Glonass(L1), Galileo(E1/E5a), BeiDou(B1/B2a), QZSS(L1/L5) and NavIC(L5)|
|SIM Cards||Dual SIM dual standby
Slot 1: 5G/4G/3G/2G Nano SIM card
Slot 2: 5G/4G/3G/2G Nano SIM card
5G+4G or 4G dual SIM dual standby support; 5G services are only supported in 5G network enabled locations in 5G-ready countries.
|Data rate||Support EN-DC(6DL+FR1, 4DL+2FR1)
FR1: DL up to 4.4Gbps / UL 542Mbps
LTE 6CA DL Cat20 up to 2.0Gbps / UL Cat13 up to 150Mbps
DC-HSPA+: DL 42Mbps / UL 5.76Mbps
4×4 MIMO and CA with 4×4 MIMO support
|Bands||5G (Bands N1, N2, N3, N5, N28, N41, N66, N71, N77, N78, N79)
FDD-LTE (Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 32, 66, 71)
TD-LTE (Bands 34, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 48)
WCDMA (Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 19)
EDGE/GPRS/GSM (850, 900, 1800, 1900MHz)
CDMA (Bands BC0) (CN and HK only)
TD-SCDMA (Bands 34, 38) (CN and HK only)
|Interface||Side-port: 48 pin Customized/Type C connector USB3.1 gen2/DP 1.4(4K)/Fast Charging (QC3.0+QC4.0/PD3.0) / Direct Charge
Bottom-port: Type C connector USB2.0/Fast Charging (QC3.0/PD3.0)/Direct Charge
|NFC||Support (Card mode support in power off)|
|Power Adapter||Output: 10V 3A, supports up to 30W QC4.0 / PD3.0 / Direct Charge adapter|
|Dimensions||171mm (6.73 inches), 78mm (3.07 inches), 9.85mm (0.39 inches)|
I’ll bring this up first. The ROG Phone 3 has X-mode which is a lot more different than the previous generation ROG Phones. Now, X-Mode allows setting up to three different levels (Level 1, Level 2, Level 3) in which Level 3 requires you to use the AeroActive Cooler 3 first or it wouldn’t even enable. X-Mode also allows tweaking of several parameters like CPU/GPU performance, touch sensitivity, and refresh rate for the respective levels. There is also an option for network Hyperfusion that lets you combine Wi-Fi and mobile data to get even better speeds for selected apps. That said, where we mentioned the results in X-Mode, it’s set to X-Mode Level 3 with maximum tweaks.
The plus in the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+ is no fancy addition. It’s capable of clocking up to 3.1GHz as opposed to 2.84GHz in the non-plus variant. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it took the throne as the top ranking smartphone in our Antutu v8 charts. And just to keep the title longer, the X-Mode Level 3 shoots its score even further – almost 70K points ahead from POCO F2 Pro which makes a very big difference. Antutu pretty much tests everything in combination; CPU, RAM, GPU and UX so it’s fair to say that the balance in specifications that the ROG Phone 3 has is justified.
Need more? Let’s put the CPU specifically to test. As you can see, even without the X-Mode turned on, the ROG Phone 3 without any shame shot all the way to the top in BOTH the single core and mult-core tests. With the X-Mode turned on? Need I elaborate? This is what you get when you pay for special speed-binned CPU, especially one with a 7nm lithography.
Next, the ES tests performed by 3DMark. I think by now you are used to it. The ROG Phone 3 takes the throne once again. The ROG Phone 3 does not only have a special speed-binned CPU, it also has an unlocked Adreno 650 GPU that ASUS claims, delivers up to 10% better performance. Coupling both, 3DMark benches them together and yields the results based on various OpenGL ES version tests. In fact, the ROG Phone 3 is the first ever device in our charts that made it into five figures for ES3.0 test.
We know that it’s a gaming phone, but something at this price point can’t be just blurting out its juices even when we only need to perform lightweight tests. So in this scenario, we need fast and efficient RAM and storage, which we do not really have to worry about because the ROG Phone 3 has up to 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM (ours is 16GB variant) and is almost twice as fast as LPDDR4X that has been common for quite some time now. Not just that, it also has UFS3.1 SSD storage so our read and write operations can catch up too. The results? Just like you expected. Whether its in standard form, or X-Mode, the ROG Phone beat the chart and took the top place again.
Sure, throw all the performance into the smartphone and let the battery suffer. You can have the best of all worlds in a real world. Or maybe that’s just what we think? But let’s put it this way, there is no way the ROG Phone 3 can win in this segment now with all that it has under its hood. Agreed?
We’re both wrong. The ROG Phone 3 took the first place yet again even in the battery test! 6000mAH battery is the perfect choice for the ROG Phone 3, much like its predecessor and it’s the first device ever to clock beyond 1000 minutes on our charts. I think we can all agree together that this is potentially, hands-down, the best smartphone of the year, gaming or not.
While looks might be subjective, the performance of the ROG Phone 3 has done nothing but blow our minds. But we are practical users and there must be something to look out for in search of quirks. We’ll break things down into smaller segments.
The ROG Phone 3 didn’t join the chase in reducing or removing bezels, because being a gaming phone, bezels do make sense to a certain extent. Primarily, the front speakers need their room and after using ROG Phone for 2 years, that’s the one thing that should not go. In fact, every gaming phone should follow this design language. Bezel-less phones are not even fun for playing games. You need area to grip the device and the bezels account for it. If this was not a gaming phone, I would have a different lingo.
The display itself is vivid. The colors are vibrant. The fluidity is..ermm..fluid..? In short, it’s everything you want on your gaming phone. Afterall, with 113% DCI-P3 gamut range, honing 1.07 billion colors, 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio, squeezed into a 6.59” size, you get the dream display of a flagship smartphone. Since the ROG Phone 3 is a gaming phone, it doesn’t stop here. The refresh rate is bumped up to 144Hz with a 1ms response rate, it has a 270Hz touch sampling rate and 25ms touch latency which means, it’s fast, snappy and responsive all at the same time. The AMOLED of our dreams!
Does it work? Well, I’m not a pro gamer, but I do spend on average 3 hours daily on mobile gaming. In fact, my ROG Phone 2 has been my dedicated gaming device, which means I do take gaming pretty seriously. The ROG Phone 3 display is indeed very responsive, and it totally aids in my reaction times, but there is this one little problem. Turning up the refresh rate somehow make the brightness higher and the colors look slightly dull and “washed out”, visible to the naked eye. You can see this happening at every step from 60Hz to 90Hz to 120Hz and finally to 144Hz, each step becoming worse. I tried capturing this on a different camera and while the results are not as clear as seeing it in real, you can see what I mean.
When I got my hands on the , combined with the vibration,ROG Phone 2, I was actually stunned by how awesome the AirTriggers 2 performed. The way the ultrasonic sensors reacts to your touch, combined with the vibration, makes it feel like there is a physical button that you’re pressing. In the ROG Phone 3, things get even more interesting.
Now, the AirTrigger 3 can be divided into two partitions for tapping, giving you a total of four shoulder buttons, two on each side. It also has this thing called “single shake” that controls input on the screen. Say you want to reload your weapon immediately, just jerk the device downwards and it will execute the trigger action on the screen.
Apart from that, AirTrigger 3 allows you to execute actions even outside of gaming. You can long-squeeze or short-squeeze the device while in portrait mode to perform some action like enabling and disabling X-Mode. AirTriggers are the primary reason for me to use the ROG Phone as my daily gaming device and any improvements to it is a plus. I do like the single shake feature honestly because there are times when your fingers are busy with the triggers and you just need that one extra gesture where this comes handy.
AeroActive Cooler 3
The AeroActive Cooler has been a signature to ROG Phone since its inception and it has made serious updates throughout its time. The best part? It comes with the ROG Phone 3 so you don’t have to purchase it separately. This time around, the AeroActive Cooler 3 has seen major updates.
First, the kickstand. Yes, in ROG Phone 2, the rubber feet that you could stick under the AeroActive Cooler 2 wasn’t practical, so this time, ASUS decided to add in a foldable kickstand instead which I really appreciate! The AeroActive Cooler 3 looks bulkier than the one used in ROG Phone 2, yet the fan vents are much smaller in opening. The ROG logo at the back and the “Republic of Gamers” on the chin of the AeroActive Cooler 3 lights up in RGB.
When mounted, the gap between the AeroActive Cooler 3 and the ROG Phone 3 is huge. This time, the Cooler also mounts close to the vent on the ROG Phone which is a good thing. With all that gap, finally the AeroActive Cooler 3 can be used with the new Lighting Armor Case which was a problem in the ROG Phone 2. Using the cooler, you can bump up the X-Mode to Level 3 which will not be possible if its not mounted.
Side Mounted Port
This is another feature that I really LOVE! I hope ROG Phone NEVER removes this from their ROG Phone series, EVER! Most of the time, we’re gaming in landscape mode and if we’re charging, we don’t want the cable to get in our way. That’s exactly why this port exists. In fact, the best features of the Type-C port exists here rather than the bottom port. The side port is a Type-C USB 3.1 Gen2 that supports DisplayPort 1.4 capable of outputting 4K, fast charging via QC3.0 and QC4.0 as well as PD3.0 while the bottom port is a Type-C USB2.0 with QC3.0 and PD3.0 charging only.
The ROG Phone 3 has four Wi-Fi antennas and the device can automatically switch between them to ensure you get the best connection quality, whether in portrait or landscape. Something new that ASUS has added here is the HyperFusion that lets you use Mobile Data when the Wi-Fi is slow or intelligently choose between either modes. Speaking of mobile data, the ROG Phone 3 has 5G connectivity, but at the time of writing, it’s not possible for us to test it out. The Wi-Fi is finally Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) with 2×2 MIMO.
I still am a firm believer that a camera phone does not really need a cutting edge camera. Instead, use that space to improve the overall gaming experience with better heat dissipation and features. In fact, I would trade 2 out of 3 cameras on the ROG Phone 3 for a 3.5mm jack if that was an option. If at all, most gamers would be using the front camera if they are streaming. But that didn’t stop ASUS from engineering one of the finest cameras on a gaming phone.
The ROG Phone 3 uses a 64MP Sony IMX686 sensor that offers 16MP main mode using Quad Bayer color filter that allows up to 2x lossless magnification in daylight. In low light conditions, it switches to 2x digital zoom based on the 16MP mode to capture enough light and improve the image. These are not empty jargons being thrown out on the paper. You can see the results at the bottom to see a mix of every mode on the ROG Phone 3. All of these were point and shoot without any mounting (tripods, monopods, etc).
Initially, I thought the ROG Phone 3 would be a rushed job as the ROG Phone 2 was still relevant and I didn’t want just some itsy bitsy improvements on the update. But as you can see, the ROG Phone 3 has made its debut with a big bang, just like how the series has done in the past years. The performance broke our records took top position in every single test, making it the ultimate gaming smartphone that you can buy today.
The camera bump is a disappointment, along with the removal of the 3.5mm jack, both of which were perfectly fine already in the previous generation. Like as if it was so close to perfection and ASUS went and said “Naah, let’s just mess things up a little”. The only one thing that can mess this up further is the pricing. €1099 (RM5426) is a very hefty price to pay in comparison to its predecessor which is still very relevant. Take note that this is NOT Malaysian price, but rather the official launch price in Europe.
Here’s our guess on the local price. Last year, the ROG Phone 2 was priced at €1199 for the 1TB/12GB variant and the local price turned out to be RM4499 for the same variant.
Since the ROG Phone 3 has been announced at €1099 for the 512GB/16GB variant, I have a fair reason to exaggerate the price the same as that variant which is RM4499.
So, for the 512GB/12GB variant which is priced at €999, I believe the local price will be estimated around RM3799.
Do you still need a reason?